“How do we recognize prophetic voices in the Church?”

My parish offers a question box for parishioners, especially students, to submit religious queries of grave or peripheral importance. Staff members are asked to “sign up” next to these questions as they are posted on our bulletin board in the main office. I don’t remember signing up for the one in the title above. (Maybe somebody thought it was appropriate–how would they surmise that?!) But it was my turn to deliver an answer for this coming weekend’s shortened bulletin.

We don’t always. We resist, deny, and complain. Most Christians prefer to hang on to the tried-and-true. When we look to the Bible, nearly every prophet encountered great difficulty: Elijah was run out of town by Queen Jezebel, Jeremiah was thrown into a well, and King Ahaz told Isaiah he didn’t even want to ask for a sign from God.

The religious notion of a prophet is one who is attuned to God’s will, and who sees that the Church—or some aspect of it—is out of synch with an important understanding of the faith. Prophets are often persecuted, but not all the persecuted people in the world are authentic prophets. How do we tell the difference? I suggest prayer, discernment, and openness to God. We can’t expect to change the whole Church, but we can do our part to nurture our willingness to hear God’s voice and take needful steps to change.

How might this work? In our personal lives, we can cultivate a sense of conversion—the Greek term is metanoia, a turning around. When things are going wrong in our lives, are we prepared to take the necessary steps to correct them? Do we listen to friends and loved ones, people we otherwise trust, when they tell us we drink too much, we don’t spend enough time with our families, or that our attitude has grown negative? Do we receive bad news like this with resistance, or with a spirit of openness? Unjust authority, like Isaiah’s King Ahaz, have a lot invested in policies and initiatives, and are deeply inclined to resist and denigrate the prophet. Do we act likewise? If so, we may well align against the prophet and the God in which we believe.

If we fancy ourselves on the fringes of the Church, or of society, or however we define our circle of influence, we can ask the following question: When the prophet approaches us and challenges us to change, are we prepared to accept this guidance? If so, then perhaps we have just cause to stand with the prophet and cheer for change. But there is a caution: the prophets willingly shouldered sacrifices and burdens to do God’s work. If we identify with the prophetic tradition, are we willing to do likewise? And lastly, if we find we never side with the prophets among us, how can we be sure we always walk with God?

Anything I missed, given my word count limit of 425? How would you have answered it?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to “How do we recognize prophetic voices in the Church?”

  1. Liam says:

    Well, I guess we also need to be careful about people who eagerly embrace the identity of prophet. While there are exceptions, in the main prophets struggle against identifying with the role, because they know that risks confusing the finger for the sun, as it were. Authentic prophets also tend to be aware that they may misunderstand their message, and also take care to proclaim their message in ways it can be heard by them who must hear it: to put it in modern words, they have a fundamentally fiduciary understanding of their role, that it’s not about them.

    Unfortunately, the role of prophet has often been corrupted by people who have this problem.

    Oh, and people in sinecures (particularly academic ones) are less likely to be prophets than they tend to imagine, as they are typically protected from fundamental risk (sure, they face more superficial risks, but they don’t have to really lay it all on the line).

  2. Gavin says:

    Well said! Two dangers in the word “prophetic”. One is of course not heeding the voice of someone trying to help. The other is following any self-styled “prophet” who has something new to say. And agreed as to the solution: listen to the small prophets in your life.

  3. Jimmy Mac says:

    And then there is the danger of this stuff which way too many people think to be a manifestation of God:


  4. Simtumul says:

    I find it interesting reading what people think about prophets. There is much confusion between a prophet and someone prophesying. We all can prophesy (speak somehting that is not as if it were)1Cor 14:31, but a prophet is in their nature prophetic (speaking what is inside regardless of the fact that it may not be what people want to hear). I am a prophet and I hear from God but there are no bells, whistles, stars or stripes when God speaks into me. It is simply what He brings to mind, and is sometimes surprising what comes out. Remember that 1Cor 13:9 says that we know in part and prophesy in part which means no one person gets the whole picture. Obviously God’s design to protect from pride.
    We recognize a prophet by their fruit but because we only see what we are looking for, the shape of the fruit we are looking for determines if we see it or not. If our preconception of what a prophet should look, or sound like, is wrong then we will not recognize a prophet when we encounter them if they don’t fit the mould we think they should. This blindness has caused the dulling of many of God’s prophets throughout history, and continues today.
    Matt 10:41 says He who recieves a prophet as being a prophet recieves a prophets reward. This means that if you accept someone as being a prophet, you recieve what comes with them, which is God’s word for the moment – the proceeding word of God.
    As we are seen by God as most precious, and He is always good, and as we were made for His pleasure, let us live from that position, not fear whether someone is a prophet or not, and be open to hear, assess where they are speaking from and recieve what comes with them in an attitude of discernment and love.
    If God doesn’t appear as we perceive him to be, does that mean it is not God?
    God has made a habit of offending our minds to reveal our hearts and our preconcieved misconceptions. Will you be open to accept someone who challenges your own personal picture of how things should be?

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